BOISE — A bill to require both chambers of the Legislature to approve any new rules passed the Idaho House on Friday.
Supporters cast it as a way for the Legislature to reclaim its rightful lawmaking powers, opponents as an overreach that will cause more problems. It passed 53-16, with Reps. Fred Wood, R-Burley, and Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, joining the Democrats to vote "No."
Legislative committees spend much of the first part of the session reviewing rules being proposed by various state agencies. Currently only one legislative committee needs to approve a rule for it to take effect. For example, if a House committee approves a rule, even if the Senate committee rejects it, the rule will still take effect unless both the full House and Senate pass a resolution to reject the rule. While most rules deal with technical or non-controversial topics, some can become contentious. One example this year was a rule to require students entering 12th grade to be vaccinated for meningitis.
The bill being sponsored by House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, says that after a committee approves a rule, both the full House and Senate would also have to vote to approve it. Moyle pointed to U.S. presidents trying to enact their agendas via executive order when they can’t get them through Congress as an example of why the bill is needed.
“It’s like having a king, and I don’t want a king,” Moyle said. “I want three separate branches of government.”
Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, said she was shocked when she first learned how the process works.
"What are we here for?" she asked. "As has been stated, it is our responsibility to craft laws. ... If we don't want to step in and accept that responsibility, then why are we here? Seriously, why are we here?"
Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, gave the example of two rules related to drug testing racehorses that the House State Affairs Committee rejected this week. The rules will almost certainly become final anyway since the Senate committee approved them.
"We got played," he said. "And it was wrong. It's not what the citizens of Idaho expect us to do here."
House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said the change would go against the process as it was explained to voters when they approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 giving lawmakers the power to approve or reject rules. It was sold as meaning the entire Legislature would have to reject a rule, he said, not one branch.
"All we're doing is creating an environment where the executive branch is constantly operating under temporary rules," Erpelding said. "If you confuse the public because you want to consolidate power in one body of government, are you actually doing what we want to do for our constituents?"
Also, he said, by not including a requirement that all rules must be reviewed, “you create an environment where a chairman can literally kill a rule by placing it in his or her drawer.”
“You basically create a way for lawmakers to kill rules in the darkness of the night,” he said.
Assistant Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise said she has many agency employees who live in her district, who sometimes get frustrated when they work for months on a rule to see it rejected after a brief committee debate. She said they were more comfortable with the 2016 constitutional amendment because of the process as it existed at the time.
“I really feel we would be profoundly pulling a switcheroo on voters” by changing it, she said.
The bill now heads to the Senate.